As 2023 thinks about winding down, music continues to come from its margins thick and fast, with November delivering 10 more examples from indie to industrial, stoner to soul. All available to buy or stream somewhere, as ever.
Llond Llaw, the second album by Carmarthenshire quintet Los Blancos, arrives via Libertino Records as did their first one, and upholds a sound I associate with the label above any other: indie-rock that you’d swear had come from some regional American scene 30 years ago, but for the rather glaring presence of someone singing in Welsh on it. At this point there is probably enough of such fare to amount to a sound of its own, and Los Blancos are one of the better exponents: fuzzbuzz powerpop guitars, lyrics variously drawled and yelled, and a little punk discordance over 13 songs (Christina, a little incongruously in this context, is a strutty garage rock number that sounds like The Hives more than anything).
DAVID J BULL
Released by Bristol label Dummy Hand, Energy is the second EP by David J Bull, established as a DJ and promoter in Cardiff and now striking out as producer too. Body & Beat, his 2022 debut, was swish chugging expansiveness influenced by Belgian new beat more than anything else, and that’s by no means been jettisoned on these four latest tracks – the mood now, though, is a bit darker on average, gothier even. EP opener Shake Out, Get Loose is nowhere near as happy-go-lucky as its title but its synth riff is justly insistent; the title track pits electro basslines against early 90s trance leads with a vaguely degraded-tape sound and drops unattributed vocal samples in to sinister effect.
EDWIN R STEVENS
Edwin Stevens – the middle initial is a recent reveal in his case – comes from Conwy and cut his teeth (and probably other protuberances) as part of a band, Klaus Kinski, who were a rare late-00s signing for the Ankstmusik label. He’s since moved about, currently based in Glasgow, but Stevens’ first solo album under his own name is again released by that pioneering Welsh indie. Heartwarming. God On All Fours is 11 songs of dishevelled, rambling quasi-country-rock which recalls Pavement when in full-band mode, Silver Jews and Sweet Baboo (not least in the vocal style, both musicians growing up in pretty much the same place) when slower and more stripped back. There are heaps of choice lyrical vignettes and a song, Clowns, dedicated to his former Klaus Kinski bandmates. Also heartwarming.
First output of stature by Wrexham synth-rockers Gallops for some years – they’ve been active since 2007 and have a habit of putting themselves on ice for lengthy stretches, though have digitally issued a few songs in the runup to The Offa Society For Psychical Research, five new tracks on their newly founded label Skandalkonzert. The trio have largely moved away from their fancy-dan math-rock meets euphoric arena techno equation of old, and seem to have a bit more taste for industrial heft – the path taken by LA band Health isn’t a totally skewiff comparison – and cinematic kosmische. Paint It Diseased ticks the first box there, Hemlock Chaser and The Crunching Teeth Of Sharks the second, with Youth Medium Gallops’ most complete pivot to danceable sounds.
JAKE A GRIFFITHS
Double Star is the second album Cardiff-based multimedia artist Jake A Griffiths has released this year, and is sufficiently different to the first to ensure that I won’t essentially be repeating what I said about it. Actually, in that it was an improvised-sounding instrumental album with a vocal song at the end, Double Star might segue from that, being a suite of nine deeply murky noise-pop numbers where vocals abound, even if not always intelligible or cleaving to a verse-chorus pattern. Not sure what Griffiths has been mining for inspiration here, but it feels like a cross-(Bristol) Channel cousin of the bizarro DIY experimentalism found on the Liquid Library and Cardboard Club labels, with the frazzled aesthetic of, say, Black Dice.
Lung, from Cardiff, have been playing shows for about five years and sharing their recorded music since late 2019. I count myself as an advocate of their steez – sound fellas, big riffs – but there wasn’t much getting around the fact that in its earlier iterations, that steez was pretty much undisguised worship of the influential stoner doom band Sleep. Lung now have a debut album, Volume, and have diversified a bit, although rarely if ever beyond the realms of stoner and/or doom metal. They also still follow Sleep’s approach to lyrics – pseudo-religious language and syntax describing subject matter for which that language isn’t strictly appropriate – but, significantly, they’re really good at it, with psychedelic solos rising up from a swamp of toxically heavy quicksand.
JON LANGFORD & THE MEN OF GWENT
As far as I know, Jon Langford has never actually released any music while resident in Wales: he formed The Mekons in the late 70s while at Leeds University and has lived in Chicago for 30 years or so. The Men Of Gwent, however, is where his Newport upbringing comes into play. Lost On Land & Sea (Country Mile), the ensemble’s third album, finds Langford backed by a group of mostly south Walian pals and singing about mostly Welsh subject matter: history, lore, local politics and social issues. It’s got his often-employed country-rock side, evident on Mrs Hammer’s Dream and others, but more often is boisterous if adult-oriented new wave in the Elvis Costello mould.
The six-song Jig-so (Côsh) is my effective introduction to the Welsh-language Mali Hâf – the name’s been circulating for a couple of years, I think, so consider me late – and I’m into what she’s up to: futurist r’n’b digitalisms with vocals that bounce between singsongy, whispery and crescendoing. Although the flesh of these songs can resemble more ‘organic’ soul somewhat (Araf, for instance), there’s always a bunch of modish computerised production touches guiding them along; I guess Dawn Richard or Solange have mined comparably leftfield earth in the last decade or so. Someone from Leeds named Binnie is credited with production on a couple of songs here: Minas has been previously named as a co-producer of Mali Hâf’s but I think this is all her own work otherwise.
THE PANAMA PAPERS
Anglo-Welsh duo The Panama Papers debut with an eponymous four-song cassette released via Sgarab, the microlabel of the project’s Welsh wing: Xavier Boucherat, who records solo as Beauty Parlour and whose fine EP King Of Love I reviewed back in summer. This, like Beauty Parlour, has saxophone – three of them, if I’m reading the credits right – and moments of electronic abandon, but rather than the dancefloor styles on King Of Love we have a spin on free (and less free) jazz by people who also spend time being rockers (TPP’s other member Robin Smith plays in Lo Egin, a cool noiserocky Leeds band) and/or ravers. Plus there are funny lyrics about secret offshore accounts and suchlike, sung in a grave baritone.
Pontyclun’s Daniel Newman started making music – bizarre, bitesized DIY dirges in the lineage of Half Japanese or The Shaggs – as Steveless 20 years or so ago. Then he mothballed the project to concentrate on regular life stuff including family and academia: he’s Dr Newman now, as per the link to his Twitter on the Bandcamp page for Low Φ (Wormhole World), the new Steveless album! Happy to confirm that maturity and credentials have not refined his approach, with 25 songs averaging about a minute each and treating guitars and drums as foes deserving punishment beatings. Though by no regular means easy listening, it shouldn’t be confused for aggro noise either, with an indiepop heart beating within these ramshackle constructs.
words NOEL GARDNER